PARIS — On our last night in this fabulous City of Light, we sit for dinner in the open window at Au Petit Bistrot on an ancient, narrow market street called rue Mouffetardand and revel in the euphoria of France’s 2018 World Cup soccer (semi-final) win earlier in the day — a prelude to France winning the entire tournament a few days later.
Ecstatic fans sing and shout their way past a tangle of colourful boulangeries, fruit and vegetable stands, cafés and clothing shops.
“Oh, they’ll be up late,” our amiable server says as he shakes his head and serves complimentary kir to my husband and I and flutes of orange juice to our kids, aged 15, 13 and 11.
He stops at my 15-year-old and asks: “Perhaps some for you?”
Then he turns, looks at me and says: “It’s only kir.”
Bien sûr, I reply — it is Paris, after all.
Above: The McCarron teens, left to right in front of the Eiffel Tower, are Leah, Madeleine and Courtenay, The girls are also seen in front of the Arc de Triomphe, right.
Here, over hearty bowls of onion soup and plates of succulent chicken in a traditional bistro on the city’s Left Bank, my heart swells watching my children do as Parisiens, savouring a leisurely meal together, blossoming, bantering, becoming my peers.
This is perfect Paris to me, and key to a successful visit en famille — forgoing the city’s crowded, overwhelming side and revelling in the moments where Paris reveals itself and its joys slowly.
We can’t possibly see all Paris in one trip. And my teens aren’t fans of early mornings. So we highlight our must-sees, and linger in our local neighbourhood, one of the city’s 20 arrondissements, finding a surprising sense of community as we wander the shops and markets.
From our base at the roomy Villa Daubenton, a can’t-do-enough-for-you apartment hotel in the 6th arrondisement — the Latin Quarter — we walk daily to the cobblestones of rue Mouffetard, one of the oldest market streets in Paris. There we hear the bells of St. Medard Church chime, select a baguette or two for that night’s supper, choose a bottle of wine and order a spit-roasted chicken and potatoes from the black apron-clad man working a favourite stall. We marvel at the variety of cheeses, stop to carefully choose a sweet treat, or sit at a café with the chairs always, always facing the street.
Each morning we hone in on a wish list item.
Above: Meals were always a big hot for the McCarron clan - side-street cafes and crepes were their favourites.
That is how we found ourselves charmed one weekday morning by two accordion players who appear out of nowhere to serenade passengers on the RER (rapid express train) that serves the city and surrounding areas. We were making the quick 40-minute trip to the fountained gardens, colossal palace, grand apartments and opulent Hall of Mirrors at Château de Versailles, the grand showcase the Sun King, Louis XIV, built solely to impress. It’s an engrossing day trip, and the city of Versailles itself is worth a visit — lots of little shops and bistros.
Another morning, we ride the Métro to Galeries Lafayette, staring up into the stained glass dome of the most beautiful shopping centre we may ever see. Along with shoes, scarves and retail therapy of all kinds, some of the city’s best views can be had for free by riding the escalators to the top of the classic department store.
Above: Sailing down the Seine on a glorious summer's day was a memorable treat.
Our hit list of must-dos isn’t long. My three kids, all in French immersion, are eager to:
• Take a Bateaux-Parisiens boat ride — touristy, for sure, but it gets you out on the Seine and gives a great orientation to the city and its landmarks;
• Meet the gargoyles at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame and maybe see the Catacombs, the underground cemetery, creepy but enthralling, and a neat way to learn about city history.
Really, we just want to soak up the atmosphere this enchanting city offers visitors of all ages.
So when I don’t follow through with plans to book a pastry-making class and wander instead into small patisseries filled with glass cases of gorgeous baked goods, I never hear a complaint as we choose decadent madeleines, macarons and eclairs.
We are tourists for sure. On our first day, we gasp at the wrought iron spire of the Eiffel Tower and marvel at the spectacular Paris panoramas from atop the Arc de Triomphe — a dizzying workout up 284 narrow, circular stairs to the top to gaze out over the western end of the grand Champs-Élysée. At the monument’s base, we pay somber tribute at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, recognizing those who died in World War I.
My teens do not want to pose for me under the hot skies outside glorious Notre-Dame. So I snap photos in quieter moments as they light candles inside the storied church, the city’s most visited site and the centre of Paris that dates back 2,300 years. It’s still ground zero, the centre of France, the point from which all distances are measured.
Less than a 10 minute walk away, we marvel at the 1,113 scenes painted into the floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows that wow visitors to gothic Sainte-Chapelle church, located within the Palais of Justice. I am not quick enough to capture the wonder that washes over the faces of my children. But it is spectacular.
We use our Paris Museum Pass (while kids are free, adults may want to invest in this pass as it covers nearly 50 sites and sometimes offer skip-the-line privileges) to immerse ourselves in the grandeur that is the Hôtel des Invalides, home to Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb and some fascinating World War 1 and II exhibits
Though a large metropolis, Paris is easy to navigate by the Métro, the bus or the RER train.
I love it all. But it’s the day’s end I cherish most, lingering each night over dinner, breaking bread and making time to laugh and chat.
One day soon my teens will grow and spread their wings. But as I watch them enjoy their meals, I keep reminding myself, we’ll always have Paris.
About the Author
Hooked on writing and travelling for as long as she can remember, Cape Breton Island native Shelley Cameron-McCarron has combined the two as a freelance travel writer for nearly two decades. She’s ridden horseback into the Rockies, fly-fished the Miramichi, prayed with pilgrims in Santiago de Compostela, and followed a ghosts and legends tour around Wales all in pursuit of a story. She’s happiest chasing down adventures on the road with her family.